Pornography is not sexual

One of the last places I expect to find interest political comment is Time Out New York — I usually don’t even read much other than the film listings. But I happened to catch a sidebar interview with Catharine MacKinnon, of all people — she must be promoting a new book. MacKinnon is known for antipornography crusading, and is usually held in contempt by liberal types who want to see the porn industry as part and parcel of a freer culture, where “the man” doesn’t tell you what kind of sex you can have. From that point of view, MacKinnon, and her compatriot Andrea Dworkin (who is typically denounced as a “radical” and a “castrating feminist” for her frequently misrepresented argument that all penetrative sex is rape), are ridid, prudish, humorless censors who hate sex, hate men, and would prefer that procreation be performed like a dour duty, with no spice whatsoever. The argument is that they refuse to recognize to acknowledge how women in porn are willingly exploiting the opportunities the industry affords them, and that it empowers them to use their body as a money-making tool. It’s an extention of the cultural studies premise (that Thomas Frank eviscerates in One Market Under God) that discovering your market niche renders you a more complete person and that consuming pop culture is actually an empowering and quite possibly subversive act of self-production, as if the culture industry doesn’t want you to make an identity for yourself out of their junk. The porn industry is all too happy to “empower” women sexually, as it makes them willing to reduce themselves to commodities, which are then subject to the predictable marketplace give and take of value establishment and profitmaking. These women are eager to commodify themselves so as to participate in a market that will assign them a value, something that society at large withholds from women generally. They become objects to be able to be priced, and they accept price as a measure of self-worth — this is the liberating triumph of pornography, and of consumer culture generally; you make yourself a quantifiable value, a sum in a table drawing up profits and losses in an active speculative market, while your most restrictive and compromising desires for instrumental sensual pleasure and thoughtless gluttony are reinforced as those things that make you special and important.

MacKinnon, in this brief Time Out interview, is very concise and astute about the absurdity of making pornography the site of a battle between liberal free-thinking and conservative puritanism. “Pornography isn’t about decency, and it isn’t about sex per se. It isn’t about smut or perversion or dirt. It is sexual bigotry. For women, it’s degrading, and for men, it’s conditioning their sexuality to objectification and abuse.”

There’s not much to add to that. Pornography’s main function is to remake male libido into a selfish, isolating, distancing desire for ownership and property-collecting, and to make women into that willing property. In this it epitomizes what consumer culture acheives by and large, encouraging us to think of ourselves as the sum of what we own rather than what we do and whom we do it with. In the porno-consumer world, we’re always doing ourselves, and we’re always doing it alone.

Advertisements

One thought on “Pornography is not sexual

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s